Matt Driver is a Glaswegian, but he has seen all there is to see in American soccer. He played in the old APSL and has coached or operated teams in virtually every U.S. league — USL, NPSL, WPSL, WPS (original GM/coach for the Philadelphia Independence) and MLS (assistant coach for the New England Revolution).
And he believes there’s room — in fact, a need — for another professional league in the USA. The league is American Professional Soccer, due to launch next spring.
What is APS? Let’s start with what it’s not.
It’s not some hare-brained scheme to compete with MLS or the NASL. Driver and his fellow owners have more modest goals. “We not looking to be the biggest and highest-paying league,” Driver said.
It’s not designed to be costly. U.S. Soccer has set a very high bar for Division II soccer — $750,000 letter of credit, owner with a net worth of $20 million, etc. Even the Division III USL Pro league is expensive, and teams are opting to operate in the amateur PDL instead of the pro ranks. Just look at USISL/USL history — in 1997, the Division II A-League and D-3 Pro League combined for more than 60 pro teams. Today, the USL Pro (DIII) is planning for 15 teams in 2014; the NASL (DII) will be up to 11 or 12 in 2014 if they don’t lose anyone.
And no, promotion/relegation fans, it’s not bringing pro/rel to the pro ranks. Ask Driver about it, and you’ll get a lengthy response that starts with, “Never gonna happen, and here’s why …”
(There is another group, United States Association Football Leagues, which says it’s building from the grass roots up to a professional national level. If you’re impatient for pro/rel, feel free to go watch your local amateur league. My indoor team is struggling once again to maintain its foothold in Division II.)
The APS goals are:
- Sustainability. Driver doesn’t want owners who are swept up in shallow passion who want to spend a lot of money and then inevitably turn away when they’re losing a lot of money.
- Development. Driver sees a lot of talented players coming out of college who don’t latch on with an MLS team right away but could develop into pros. Like Jimmy Conrad:
The plan is slow, controlled growth. The 2014 teams will be concentrated on the upper East Coast. Don’t expect the league to add one California team and one Florida team in 2015. “Keeping travel costs down” is a more pressing priority than “building a national footprint.”
U.S. soccer has often found itself drowning in alphabet soup, with leagues splintering into more leagues shifting around this giant land mass of ours. But at the moment, youth players are overwhelmed with choices, and college players have no shortage of places to play in the summers. Young adults, including those who aren’t taking the college route, don’t have as much. If you believe the current U.S. system isn’t casting a wide enough net, you have to root for more lower-level pro teams to provide more opportunity.
As always, the big question is this: Can it be supported? By whom? We’ll see. But a league with reasonable goals may have a reasonable shot of making it.
(Update: Everyone knows this is a men’s league we’re talking about, right? Hence the discussion about NASL and USL Pro.)